Public WiFi is for Men and Mobile Internet is for Women: Interrogating Politics of Space and Gender around WiFi Hot-Spots.

Public WiFi is for Men and Mobile Internet is for Women: Interrogating Politics of Space and Gender around WiFi Hot-Spots.

30.11.2018, Friday
ATREE Auditorium


Infrastructures are commonly understood to be composed of predominantly technological elements. However, social studies of infrastructure demonstrate the diverse ways in which social and non-technological components come together to make up an infrastructure. In India, public WiFi networks are increasingly viewed as last-mile Internet solutions for rural areas given the infrastructure intensive nature of fibre optic broadband connectivity. However, restricting discussions around WiFi deployments only to the technology that makes them possible, misses the broader social and cultural contexts that can influence public WiFi access and use. In my talk, I present on how the spaces surrounding public WiFi deployments need to be viewed as an integral part of the WiFi infrastructure that can work to include or exclude users and potential users. Drawing on interviews, observations, and practices around WiFi access points in public spaces in a rural community in Rajasthan, I illustrate the ways in which Internet savvy women may continue to experience exclusions in Internet access and use. Bound by social norms that restrict their movements and tether them to spotty mobile data, women's Internet usage is limited in comparison to men, whose relatively unconstrained mobility permits them access and use of the free WiFi in the community. Additionally, interviews with a commercial WiFi provider reveals naive assumptions about women's Internet habits and gendered mobilities influencing access. The findings suggest that in certain contexts, women may remain invisible as potential customers despite their desire and ability to pay for WiFi access.

About the speaker

Preeti Mudliar is an assistant professor at the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIIT-B). Her research interests centre around using ethnographic methods and analyses to study social contexts around technology access and use. Her recent work has including the study of WiFi infrastructures, and  breakdowns in biometric authentication in PDS distribution. Her research has been published in human-computer interaction (HCI) venues such as CHI and CSCW. Preeti has a PhD in Communication Studies from the University of Texas, Austin.